Taberna Palo Cortado

Taberna Palo Cortado is an unreal place where unlikely, even impossible things are within reach. Took some colleagues there for dinner and, given free rein to show off the best of el Marco and beyond, it turned into one of those memorable dinners.

We started with champagne – not pictured – and maybe it is less well known what a nice little selection of champers is available here. This bottle was just for refreshing between courses but over the years I have had some serious and high quality bubbles. But it wasn’t long before we got stuck into the superb Andalucian wines for which Palo Cortado is famous.

We kicked off with the De la Riva Fino from Balbaina Alta – with that deep colour, deep haybale and hazelnut and fresh background – like a nut store floating on a mountain stream.

But, as I said, I was given free rein, and next up was la Barajuela Fino – 2016 – and it was the star of the night. What an awesome wine – the fruit and top register, the depth and compactness. Everyone loved it – they always do.

Tragically, it soon ran out and so we tapped an altogether more classic fino – a Panesa from October 2019 – which never let’s you down. Just class, sculpted palomino, with all its nuts in butter.

I then picked a wine slightly out of order – Encrucijado 2015 – the proto palo cortado (by now I was fully warmed up and well into an explanation of the situation pre-phyloxera), should really have come earlier. Butterscotch loveliness but so much finer and more subtle in profile than the heavy old Jerez finos.

By now we are tucking into some world class escabeches – pularda and presa ibérica – and the chosen accompaniment was the VORS Amontillado by Bodegas Tradicion. What a class wine – fine, fragrant, flavourful and elegant. One of the very best in its category.

And then callos, garbanzos, and the absolutely epic oloroso De La Riva. Not a lot to say about this absolutely sensational oloroso, except that it struck me as wonderfully elegant for all its rusty nail and acidity.

By this stage of dinner the intellectual discourse has become fragmented and there is a sense that the battle is won. I cannot remember what we had for dessert, but we accompanied it with a regal old 1955 pedro ximenez from Toro Albala, before a glass of the top class Tradicion brandy to cap off the night.

A fantastic dinner with a fair bit of laughter and a range of wines you can only find in one place in Madrid. Many thanks to Paqui and the team and the less said about Thursday morning the better …

Kaleja

The writer has had a few sensational lunches over the years but some are more sensationaler than others. The most sensational of them all was probably the one I had just under six weeks ago in Kaleja in Malaga.

January is a tricky old month – a combination of hangover and start all over, with added paperwork, and anything you can do to boost morale is too little. And it struck me that if you can’t see a bit of daylight between the clouds overhead then it is time to go and seek out the sun. So spotting a gap in the deadlines I availed myself of the convenient high speed train provided at vast expense to the public purse and shimmied down to Malaga. And I wasn’t just after a bit of winter sun, I was on a mission to have a look at this new venture by legends’ legend Dani Carnero and a crew featuring none other than my good mate Juanito, an absolutely top bloke and seriously talented sommelier in the making.

First impressions were bang on the money. It was January 15, bleak midwinter you might think, but not in Malaga. In Malaga the street was full of people in shorts, drinking beers on terraces and generally enjoying life in a way that is utterly inconsistent with any reasonable definition of the term “winter”. Not only that, but the stroll down from the station to the resto is a lovely one – a beautiful, underrated city this, and if you know where you are going you can pass by the traditional market, Picasso’s house and a few other assorted sights on your way. Timing is also perfect – get a train at a reasonable hour from Madrid, wander over and there is just time for a refreshing caña on the terrace before you get down to business.

But get down to business one must get and there, in the shadow of the castle in an alleyway off the famous view of the walls, is the restaurant itself. And it is the business.

I am not your man if you are after descriptions of interior decoration but this place is elegant. The staff, the uniforms, the layout, the furniture, the understated homage to the barbecue coals on display. But the best of all is the kitchen, because the kitchen has a bar – a minimalist stone surface with subtle lighting and an unbeatable view – because a few lucky diners can sit and enjoy a menu that Dani and the crew are literally making before their eyes.

I was one such lucky diner, and doubly lucky because I was allowed to sit there with all my friends (yep, it was just me). Now I have always found it very relaxing to watch others work, and this would have been a very relaxing time had they not been constantly interrupting my contemplation with new wines and dishes.

And what wines they were. You can see them above, and if you have been following this blog for any length of time you don’t need me to tell you that it was what is known as a festival. Absolute gems from start to finish and all the way through: so much so that the Barajuela Fino almost merged with the crowd. Really a consistently high standard and some excellent, innovative choices, but never straying far from the traditional wines of Andalucia, surely the best wines for this cooking 8 times of every 10. I am not saying this was a standard pairing menu – I gave Juanito instructions not to spare the ponies – but even then the pain at the end was more than reasonable – and in fact the list was very faily priced. In short, even a far better blog than this one will find it easy to enjoy the liquid assortment. For me it was just incredible.

And what dishes they were too. Dani Carnero is known as a man for the stews – pride of place in the kitchen is a traditional Andalucian cooking fire surrounded by bubbling pots – but the word “stew” just does not do justice to a recital like this one. I took the standard menu of fourteen dishes with just a couple of extras that Dani talked me into and looking back it is really hard to argue with any of them. If I had to pick any out as especially good they would be the berza, the magic beans in magically cheesy sauce, the ajoblanco, the rice, the roasted peppers, the hare, the callos de bacalao, the mackerel, the squid, the lentils  … (let’s face it, I couldn’t really pick any out). The bread was crunchy and fleshy, the butter was flavourful. See if you can find fault with it because I could not.

In summary: three hours of absolute treat after absolute treat, in the best possible surroundings.

Because the space you are in is congenial – beautifully decorated in the quietest possible street in central Malaga, but the best of all is that you are surrounded by the absolute salt of the earth. Juanito is a friend and a known great bloke, and I had also had good reports of Dani Carnero, but nothing could have prepared me for the welcome I received down there. It was like dropping into your mate’s house, inviting yourself into the kitchen and having him or her whip you up a world class menu and soak you in world class wines while you chew the cud and generally set the world to rights. (He knows his onions too, your man there.)

A truly memorable experience in a world class restaurant that surely must now go on to conquer the world. I have never been one for real estate investments but if you could buy the land under the seats at that bar in the kitchen I reckon you would be golden.

Many thanks to Juanito, Dani and the whole team and my sincere congratulations. I cannot wait to get back to that stool at the bar for another go but will always remember my first visit.

Cork, Bilbao

A brief visit to an absolutely cracking wine bar in Bilbao – the legendary Cork, which was already a temple for sherry lovers when this blog was in short trousers and, despite the proliferation of competition since, has a selection of wines of the highest class. It is not often I go to a place these days where I am keen to try more than a couple of sherries, but here they had no less than eight that seemed to leap off the shelf.

A real quality line up, starting with Encrucijado 2014, the Manzanilla de Añada 2012 5/11, the original, 2015 saca of La Maruja Manzanilla Pasada, el Amontillado 3/10 by Alexander Jules, el Amontillado Olvidado by Sanchez Romate, oloroso VORS by Piñero, oloroso El Cerro, and an old bottle of the the now out-of-catalogue Medium from Barbadillo (gorgeous with gorgonzola). A really pleasing line up of wines and perfect restoration for a palate dulled by a long, hard day at the mill with only coffee and water for company.

Even better, they were accompanied by an equally varied and almost equally tasty lineup of very pleasant pintxos. Even even better, all that was accompanied by pairing advice and all around friendly chat of Jonathan, owner, enthusiast and gentleman.

There is no doubt that Cork is deserving of a place in the “must visit” category of winebars for sherry fans and winelovers in general. No sooner had I started on my little sherry flight than I found myself wishing I had started with some of the bubbles in the ice box, could find space for the trousseau staring me in the face or the other corkers lurking in the background.

Fantastic evening in a fantastic wine bar. I will be back!

Elkano

Felt obliged to write something about what was nearly a religious experience this summer up on the basque coast near Sebastian: Elkano in Getaria.

On the night we didn’t even have any sherry, preferring to stick to more local brews, but they had a superb list – including the De la Riva blanco macharnudo and many others, so sherry lovers should feel no qualms about going. And indeed even if they didn’t and whatever qualms you may have you should go anyway.

You may have heard or read about Elkano and its famous rodaballo (turbot), grilled on the coals outside the restaurant. You may even, given the appearance recently of ever fancier grill restaurants all over Spain and further afield, have had other exceptional rodaballos or similar fishes that have been mentioned in the same breath. In my case I had even been to Cataria, Elkano’s sister restaurant down in Cadiz, where I had had the best fish that I had ever been served in my life.

But even then I honestly never imagined how absolutely superb this meal was going to turn out to be. Everything was good – the lobster cooked two ways, the hake cheeks three, and the other little fish that came and went – but the turbot was just out of this world. What was staggering was not simply how rich, how juicy, and how perfectly white and fluffy/flakey the fish was, but the sheer range of flavours and consistencies, all of them expertly pointed out by the resident genius Aitor Arregi.

I can still remember how the guys down in Cataria were full of life, literally bouncing around in their excitement as they explained the fish to us. By comparison, Aitor was a man of few words but maximum information. A priest in the temple of the turbot rather than a ringmaster, no frills added and none needed.

Really exceptional and one of those very rare meals you will remember for your whole life. Turbots never tasted that like before and may never do so again.

La Buena Vida

La Buena Vida is a really top class little bistro run by really nice people with top class cooking (including world class cheesecake) and an excellent winelist, including more than enough sherries for even the most obsessive palominohead.

True to its name, it is one of those places where you can try the things that make life worth living: simple or flamboyant cooking (in truffle season oyoyoy) and wines from every corner of the world and right across the spectrum.

A colleague and I had a relatively simple lunch by la Buena Vida standards – níscalos (saffron cap mushrooms) with potatoes, mallard and that quite splendid cheesecake, washed down pretty liberally with Fino Innocente (not as easy to find as it should be) and the majestic Tradición Amontillado.

The good life indeed!

A 2017 manzanilla La Jaca in Taberna Verdejo

Whereas I tend to pull faces when I get given really old wines I have no problem with the occasional manzanilla with a couple of years in the bottle. They get that touch of oxidation but remain very fine – no inclination towards the potency of a manzanilla pasada but a little bit of the flavour.

This one, a half bottle of La Jaca that had been filled in June 2017, was no exception to the rule. Still fragrant on the nose, but a little bit of old fruit in there with the chamomile, like one of those fruit teas, but wheras the fruit teas always smell better than they taste, this was just fine on the palate. Still fresh and zingy, had a nice dry, nutty palate and if not quite a hint of toffee maybe just a suggestion of nougat.

Very nice little wine, and absolutely at home in what is surely the loveliest little tavern in town.

El Huerto de Carabaña

A moment to reflect on a cracking lunch yesterday at the Bistro of el Huerto de Carabaña.

The bistro is not much to look at. The restaurant section around the corer is fancier, but the bistro is an old school neighbourhood eatery with lighting you would call discreet, smallish tables with even smaller tablecloths, tiled walls, a glass front at one end and the kitchen widen open to view at the other. And given that it is smack in the middle of a neighbourhood full of restaurants at the very top end of whatever interior decoration ranking there may be (and getting higher every week) this is not the place fashionistas in the neighborhood would pick.

And neither was there anything fancy about the food: tomatoes, boletus and callos (and cheesecake). But there is absolutely nothing wrong with tomatoes, boletus and callos. The place is named for a garden and the motif is rustic: a menu full of grilled and fresh vegetables. Good quality, country cooking. In fact the only “but” I would attach to the solids was that the callos seemed to have a little too much of the garden about them – warm, rich and savoury rather than sharp and spicey.

But the best thing about the lunch was the wine, and everything about the wine. First, no sooner than I sat down than I had a glass of la Maruja in my hand – a really excellent one too from a bottle filled in August (so this has not been sat on a shelf waiting its turn) and served in a Gabriel glass.

Even better was to come. Instead of a wine list, what these guys have is a walk-in wine cellar where you can go and have a look, it is around the corner in the restaurant, and the way to get there is a Goodfellas-style shortcut through the kitchen. Now not everyone would be up for it, but if you don’t love walk-in wine cellars then I wonder why you are reading this blog, and you will have to believe me when I tell you there were some exciting wines in there – a wine loving truffle pig would have a field day.

A sherry loving truffle pig too. They had some quality wines by Tradición and Emilio Hidalgo, including some you don’t see every day, and some classics from the bigger bodegas too, all of them very fairly priced by the glass.

For winelovers they also had some of the rarer, newer wines from Jerez, and we didn’t even have to hunt them out. The sommelier, whose name I didn’t catch but I wish I had, saw our enthusiasm for the Maruja and the Marques de Rodil and proceeded to fish out a bottle of Muchada Leclapart that he had coravined (that cork was not needed any further and a bit of argon was released into the atmosphere).

It all added up to a great lunch, with some terrific wine – from the singing Maruja to an absolutely class, elegant Marques de Rodil – without breaking anyone’s bank and with the minimum of fuss. You may not have noticed the Huerto de Carabaña before, but if you get the chance you should definitely stick your neck in there.

 

Angelita Madrid

I never get bored of Angelita Madrid (and how could you given their astonishing wine list, ever better cooking and their superb range of cheeses?) but I am aware that for those readers that aren’t actually in there with me (and on some days half my readership are) it may not be the most thrilling subject matter to always be reading about the same place. Fortunately they are not the same wines.

Here are a selection of the wines from a recent lunch with a colleague (not a comprehensive reportage) and you can see just what a marvellous spot it is.

First, a genuine cult wine: one by Alba Viticultores. This guy’s wines are not easy to get but Angelita is one of the places to get them. This was the last couple of glasses of a lovely effort – just enough fizz to set off the fine aromas and salinity of the palomino.

Second, the limited edition la Gitana en rama, which is really a good manzanilla. Pungent bitter almond in a fresh package – zingy upfront and mouth watering behind.

Then a couple of ringers to keep things interesting – including an absolutely superb Arbois by your man Lucien Aviet.

And finally a quite majestic amontillado from Toro Albala in Montilla Moriles – the Marques de Poley 1964, which I would put up there with the very finest amontillados I have ever had. Superbly fragrant, sharp and fine, a lovely array of flavours unfolding through the palate.

Cofiño

It has been an exceptional summer in terms of visiting places I had long heard about and amongst some bigger names one of the nicest surprises was at Cofiño, tucked away in the Cantabrian hills.

It is a respectful distance from the glamour of the beaches and towns on the coast and there is absolutely nothing pretentious about it from the outside. If you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t give it a second glance (were it not for the dozens of parked cars). Inside too, while it is an extremely pleasant space, there is no indication you are in anything other than a rustic tavern – while you cannot argue with a menu heavy in mixed salads, fried eggs and potatoes, meatballs and steaks.

But then you see the winelist, and the little cellar on display to one side of the dining room, and you realize that everything you had been told was true.

Absolutely cracking – as good a selection of current releases from around Spain as I have seen and a nicely chosen selection of wines from all over. Sherries are superbly represented – those that are listed and those that are not, with some real treasures, and the prices are absolutely fantastic all the way down the winelist (you would not believe how little we paid for the wines above). Or should I say list of wines and spirits – a really exceptional list of spirits of every kind, including a pretty encyclopedic list of brandies de jerez.

Eggs, ham and chips, meatballs and top quality wines for a song. Paradise!

Finos San Patricio in Taberneros

Took me far too long to get to Taberneros – the very first time I posted my list of restaurants for sherry lovers I was told I should go there and it ended up taking me over three years – shocking really. When I finally did duck my head in last week there were friendly smiles all round, an entire cocido was miraculously found despite the late hour and, even more miraculously, while I stepped outside to take a call three bottles of a fine old fino appeared on the bar. To be precise, three bottles of Fino San Patricio – the famous Garvey marque – from 1977, 1972 and 1967, respectively.

As a result a fella found himself under an obligation to pay a bit more attention than has lately been the custom, and found himself enjoying the experience all the more as a result. Nothing in it really color wise – and no surprise if you think you are drinking wines that are 41, 46 and 51 years in the bottle – but some quite telling differences on the nozzle and in particular on the palate.

The 1977 was piercing and saline on the nose, any hay bales appeared to have faded to sea air and brackish sea weed, the 1972 was a little bit closed and whiffy while the 1967 had a really intriguing nose of salty bacon flavoured crisps (frazzles) with a background of a little bit of ginger. Then on the palate the 1977 was intriguingly the least substantial of the three – vertical, bitter but fresh, the 1972 had that same profile with just an ounce more oomph and pungency but the 1967 seemed to have gone a little over the top, a much softer, mushier profile and clear signs of oxidation in the wine.

Very interesting and a real treat. I am by no means a fan of these older bottles but there is no denying how interesting the comparisons can be. The cocido, though, was even better. I will be back!